It was a shortened but memorably tough Volta a Catalunya stage 6 where the peloton had to contend with freezing rain, high speeds, treacherous road surfaces, and crosswinds. Race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), however, quickly dismissed media suggestions this had been his easiest day so far.
"Today? It's not been at all straightforward," the nonplussed Movistar racer responded after a short but telling silence in his post stage press conference. "Yes, there wasn't that much climbing, but the cold and rain made it really tough.
"That was a point half-way through the stage, where I and the rest of the peloton were all absolutely frozen, chilled to the bone. It's true there weren't any attacks by my rivals, but that was because the weather conditions made the racing so hard. It was more than enough simply getting through the stage."
By way of proof, Valverde pointed out that after snatching a time bonus on Friday, on Saturday Egan Bernal (Team Sky) had made no effort whatsoever to chip away at Valverde’s 16-second overall lead.
"There was a bonus second up for grabs in the intermediate sprint after the two breakaways had gone through. But Bernal didn't even try to get it."
On top of that a group acceleration by Michelton-Scott saw echelons form in the last 25 kilometres, but Valverde said that it had not created too much tension in the peloton. "To tell the truth, I only realised the bunch had split apart because they told me over the radio. We were going so fast and so focussed on not crashing with the roads that had become so slippery in the rain that we had no time to look back.
"We had been warned that there could be crosswinds, so we saw it [the echelons] coming, and that's why we were on the front. But more than because of the wind, I think it all split apart because people were so cold, and they couldn’t respond to the increase in speed."
Valverde praised the organisers for deciding to shorten the stage because of the snowfalls in the Pyrenees. “Everybody saw how much snow there was at the start, on the first climb of the day on the original stage route and again on the second. Above all, safety had to come first.”
On Sunday more rain is expected, but as Valverde pointed out, “it’s not the same when it’s raining and zero degrees than when it’s ten or 12 degrees. It’s not half as bad.”
On the plus side for the Movistar rider, Valverde is now a stage closer to what would be his third overall victory in the Volta a Catalunya and Movistar’s third in succession. And although not ruling out a repeat of his 2015 and 2017 stage wins in Montjuic Park on Sunday, the main priority, Valverde says, is the overall victory.
"I've been leader for several days, we’ve won two stages and if I can get the outright victory then that would be great for me and the team. But either way I'm not going to start getting nervous, at this stage in the game, there wouldn't be any point in that."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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